By Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C
As an eating disorder therapist, one common thing that I hear all of the time, is a person’s belief that they aren’t “sick enough” to have an eating disorder or to need eating disorder treatment.
Eating disorders can often be “competitive illnesses.” For instance, your eating disorder may cause you to compare yourself to others who are struggling and will then tell you that you “aren’t sick enough.” Your eating disorder will say this in an effort to keep you trapped and under it’s control. Often for your eating disorder there is no “sick enough.” I’ve heard from people who were near death and still didn’t believe that they were ill.
Additionally, some people with restrictive eating disorders struggle with something called “anosognosia” which is a brain-based lack of awareness, where essentially the individual is unable to see that they are ill. This is why it’s so important for concerned individuals to push their loved ones to seek treatment, even if the person declares that they are “fine.”
Even if you don’t suffer from anosognosia, if you try to convince yourself that you are “fine” you do not have to take the scary steps towards recovery. So it makes complete sense as to why you might want to believe that “everything is ok,” even if it’s not.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of stigma and misinformation about what someone with an eating disorder “looks like,” or the signs that someone might be struggling. Individuals who are suffering might internalize some of these messages.
So today, I want to make a few things clear.
· Even if you are considered to be “normal weight” or “overweight” (according to BMI charts, which are hugely problematic and political, but I reference it here to make a point).
· Even if you think that you are “too big” to have an eating disorder.
· Even if you’ve never had a feeding tube.
· Even if your eating disorder never landed you in the hospital.
· Even if you “still eat meals.”
· Even if you never had medical complications from your eating disorder.
· Even if your labs appear “normal.”
· Even if you have some days that feel easier than other days.
· Even if you think that others “have it worse than you.”
· Even if family and friends do not seem concerned about you.
If you are struggling with a preoccupation with food and weight-you are “sick enough” and you absolutely deserve to seek treatment and help.
Eating Disorder Myth-Busting.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses, and we cannot tell how much someone is suffering on the basis of their physical appearance. Additionally, life-threatening eating disorders can impact people of all weights, body types, ages, ethnicities, genders, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses. They do not discriminate.
I don’t even think I could count the number of times that I’ve worked with clients who say, “but I can’t possibly have an eating disorder because I’m not underweight,” or “It can’t really be that serious because I look normal.”
As a therapist, I work almost exclusively with people struggling with eating disorders and they come in ALL different body shapes and sizes. You cannot tell whether someone is struggling on the basis of their weight or appearance.
If you have a voice in your head that convinces you to restrict your food, over-exercise, binge, purge, or engage in any other eating disorder behaviors, you are “sick enough” and you deserve to get help and support.
Are you ready to find freedom?
Book a free 15 min consultation.
The Eating Disorder Center is a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center founded by Jennifer Rollin. We specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, OSFED, and body image issues. We provide eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Silver Spring, Germantown, and Washington D.C. We also offer eating disorder therapy virtually throughout California and New York (NYC) serving those in cities including Palo Alto, San Francisco, Newport Beach, Los Angeles, Woodland Hills, San Jose, and Beverly Hills. We provide eating disorder recovery coaching via Zoom to people worldwide. Connect with us through our website at www.theeatingdisordercenter.com
By Allyson Ford, MA, LPCC
It’s no secret that the ‘thin ideal’ exists and has been a major factor in influencing body image distress, distortion and disordered eating for decades in Westernized cultures. And, I am here to tell you there is more to the story. Think about the last time you scrolled through social media, watched Netflix or passed by billboard ads down the highway. Think critically about the bodies portrayed to you and the other ‘ideals’ represented to you. What do you notice? Were the ‘desirable’ models/actors/influencers a certain body size, skin color, age range or gender? Were they able bodied? In a heterosexual relationship?
If you answered yes to any of those, that is because the ideals represented to us are complex and more specific than the thin ideal. The thin ideal is SO real. Most of us grow up with the pressure to want to shrink our bodies. AND, so is the white Ideal. The ableist ideal. The gender binary ideal, the heterosexual ideal, the affluent ideal and the young ideal. The bodies represented and internalized in all of our psyches as the “ideal” are rooted in white supremacy and colonization. They are meant to erase our individual differences, make us conform to unrealistic standards, in order for entire industries to then capitalize off of those constructed insecurities.
Traditional treatments for body image focus on helping clients reject the pursuit of thinness. However, that alone is not enough. When we talk about treating body image, we have to acknowledge ALL of the systems of oppression influencing ALL of the bodies that are marginalized in different ways.
You see, we all have a personal ‘body image story.’ It is the way we came to view our bodies- because (surprise) you weren’t born hating your body. This story in our psyche is constructed and conditioned, in part, through cultural norms and expectations. It is heavily influenced by our politicized experiences in the world. Think of all the ways your body has been politicized. All the ways you have experienced being ‘othered’ by lack of representation of similar bodies, by violent acts of injustice towards people in bodies like yours, by racism, by sexism, by heterosexism, ableism, ageism. By fat phobia. And more. We internalize those experiences whether direct or indirect. We are taught that our bodies are not ‘good enough’ in so many ways and for some, bodies are even criminalized.
As eating disorder survivor, therapist and recovery coach myself, I truly believe that ‘body positivity’ is not attainable for everyone until there is justice, equal representation, trust and safety for all marginalized bodies. We must hold space for all the ways in which bodies are being harmed in our society and fight for change by electing leaders and voting for policies that value humanitarianism and social justice. This starts with looking at our own varying degrees of privilege and how we may have been blind to others’ experiences. It starts with looking inwards and asking what can I be doing to impact change? How has my conditioned silence hurt others?
On the personal front, not all hope is lost. Even if ‘body positivity’ does not feel attainable to you, even if these systems never fully change, there is still hope. What I have seen be accomplished in others and myself is body neutrality. Body acceptance. You don’t have to love the way it looks--in fact, there is some research that shows when we think loving how we look is always attainable, we still have an appearance focused outlook on our lives. The truth is: your appearance is the least important thing about you. What is important is that you can trust your body, you can treat it with kindness and respect even if others’ don’t. Your body is YOUR home, no one else's. Your body is your longest relationship and just like any relationship, it requires sometimes daily work to remind it that it can trust you, and you can trust it.
Some ways you can practice working towards body neutrality is: #1 Treat it with respect: listen to your body! Tired? Prioritize sleep. Get proper nourishment. Move in ways that feel good, not punishing. Choose recovery when it comes to eating disorders, trauma and addiction. Recovery connects you back to your true self and to your body. Society takes you away. #2 Develop appreciation: make a list of all the things your body does for you (i.e. “I am so thankful for my arms, they allow me to hug my partner). Place those reminders all over your mirror. #3 Develop a self-care routine. This one is crucial to developing body respect and trust. You have to show yourself that YOU matter. Do small acts of kindness for yourself, put your needs first and watch how this transforms the way you talk to yourself and your body. #4 Unfollow triggering social media accounts (think: fitspo, thinspo or any appearance focused account). A lot of research shows when we follow accounts with more body diversity, we become more accepting of ourselves. My last piece of advice: find an eating disorder/ body image therapist to help walk you through this process. No one heals alone. These things are often deeply embedded in our personal and collective psyches. And remember, we are fighting a war that is a systemic in nature, it is going to take a force much larger than ourselves to fix the problem.
I say this from a place of light skinned, mixed race, cisgender, thin, able-bodied privilege. I will never fully know what it is like to walk in the shoes of those more marginalized than myself.
Looking for help?
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The Eating Disorder Center
We are a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center in Rockville, Maryland.